In Conversation: Interpretation

– [Dana Bishop-Root] Hi everybody. Welcome. Thank you for being here, thank you for tuning into the livestream in your home. I’m Dana Bishop-Root, Director of Education and Public Programs at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Thank you for coming here, for arriving here to this museum, this building and land that holds multiple histories,

Memories, and experiences, generations of histories, memories, and experiences. Histories, memories, and experiences both before and after borders were made. Thank you for being here tonight together, for joining in any way that you can, for bringing with you your lived experiences and knowledge and your complex and beautiful histories, welcome.

The In Conversation series began towards the beginning of the pandemic as a virtual way to share conversations between artists, curators, and our many publics, with people in their home spaces. As individuals who make the museum, we are a community of learning. The In Conversation series communicates art as a relationship we build together,

The relationships between artwork, artists, each of us, and the world. When we were imagining what the series could be and asking ourselves the question of how can museums learn and grow from what the artwork on our walls teaches us, from what artists imprint on us every time we get

To have a conversation with them? How can this learning transform us? How can we connect seemingly disparate exhibitions throughout the museum to ask public-facing questions to build language together? Alyssa did this. She responded immediately to this prompt. Through her work as a co-curator for Sharif Bey: Excavations,

She has developed public programs that do just this. The first Conversation she created centered on multiple forms of literacy, and this conversation, Interpretation, directly tied to Excavations, but it is also an opportunity to build language across and throughout the museum in all of you. Alyssa centers her work on critical care,

The vulnerability of asking questions, and facilitating exhibitions and spaces that create both self-reflection and collective discourse. They both directly acknowledge structural and internalized oppressions while creating in-between spaces, a magic of possibility and of wonder. I’m honored to introduce you all to Alyssa Velazquez, Curatorial Assistant in Decorative Arts

And Design and the co-curator of Sharif Bey: Excavations. – [Alyssa Velazquez] Good evening. Thank you all for being with us here tonight for our first in-person Conversation, informed and inspired by Sharif Bey: Excavations. I make up merely one portion of the museological team that organized and contributed time, expertise, and to be frank, heart into this exhibition.

Thank you all who are involved in its inception. On behalf of myself, the rest of the Carnegie Museum of Art, and our partners on this project, thank you, our audience, for being with us tonight. Speaking of which, I want to tip my hat to our speakers, Kilolo Luckett, founding executive director

And chief curator of ALMA|LEWIS in Pittsburgh, (audience applauds) multidisciplinary artist, Frewuhn, And founding director of The Roll Up CLT, Jessica Gaynelle Moss. I hold immense gratitude for all of you, and I know I just gave a one-liner for each of these individuals, however, their biographies are so rich and far-reaching that I really encourage everyone here to research their organizations, websites, and past collaborations, because we could honestly, and I am not kidding, spend the remainder

Of the time with their stellar bios alone. If you should need to use the restroom at any time, the bathrooms are located to the left of the main doors you came in. Emergency exits are out the main door as well, and we will be opening up our four-person conversation

For audience Q&A towards the end of our time together. This event is being livestreamed, so hello virtual audience, and it is also being recorded for posterity. Special thank you to our staff, Jordan Bohannon and Tom Fisher, running tech on both of these fronts as a means of remembering this special moment,

As well as our setup staff without whose assistance, none of this would’ve been possible. And I do believe that is all the housekeeping, so if you haven’t seen the exhibition yet or heard Sharif Bey before tonight, I wanted to show this brief clip that we produced

As part of our opening before I switch to our PowerPoint and continue our panel discussion, so bear with me as I deal with the tech switcheroo. – [Sharif Bey] As it pertains to engaging the world, we have these fundamental institutions that shape us. For me to have an exhibition at the Carnegie Museum represents the culmination of my unique orientation and journey into the arts. When I think about my earliest experiences at the museum,

One of the first things that I responded to was the idea of innate beauty. You see the Hall of Minerals, or you see the dinosaur bones, or we see the hall of birds. And then we see expressions of color and form and surface.

There should be a humility that comes out of the awesomeness of that which is already here and that was here long before us. I’ve just been especially taken by the formal qualities of the natural world, and the countless birds that are available here. I was given the support and authority to arrange them

In such a way that I would if I were painting or sculpting with these objects. You know, sometimes we have these fragments of history and those of us artists who are inspired by the circumstances revolving around the mystery of these objects have to kinda fill in the blanks.

– [Alyssa] When I think about these opening monologues, I frequently struggle with which strain of thought to travel. In my mind, everything is connected, which is why between Sharif’s sound clip and some of the work in the gallery highlighted in that clip, when developing a series of conversations,

I knew one of the themes that was visible but had the potential for greater legibility was this behemoth term, interpretation, whether it be the interpretation of ancestral history or the adornment of a form of wall base necklace or a bone, as pictured here in the pendant piece to the exhibition’s text.

In its label, we quote a phrase that’s been important to Sharif by the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, which is, “When you see a fish, you don’t think of its scales, do you? “You think of its speed, its floating, “flashing body seen through the water. “If I made fins and eyes and scales,

“I would arrest its movement, “give a pattern or shape of reality, “but I just want the flash of its spirit.” Like Brancusi, Bey often elides fidelity in his work, the bone-like connectors of Bey’s conceptual necklace are built with an acute sense of metaphor or interpretation.

As Sharif says, “I’ll leave certain things to the creator, “for lack of a better expression. “I’m not as interested in capturing those things “as I want to approximate or suggest things. “The anatomy isn’t as important as the broader expression.” As in the studio photograph on the right,

There are mass sketches of fish scales, fins, and eyes out of scale, and broadly expressed. Each of the speakers with us tonight has an artistic expression and practice that is broader than Sharif Bey: Excavations. As you’ll see throughout the various presentations, there are only a select number of images of Sharif’s work

Because tonight is really about our speakers and their composite of practices, anthropological, historical, and cultural, in which we view not the scale to scale ratio, if you will, of interpreting and responding to the work itself, but that Sharif Bey and his resulting exhibition serve as a portal of entry

Where we can discuss pedagogical interpretations of artistic praxis. So tonight, we embody just a Brancusian flash of the show’s spirit. And with that potential never-before-used adjective, I am gonna move (audience members laugh) to join these fabulous conversationalists in what I’m sure will be a spirited discussion, and I’m just so excited, but Kilolo,

I remember the first time I met you was actually at the opening of Sharif Bey: Excavations, and I remember us being in such reverential awe of both the turnout and the juxtaposition of the works in the museum’s collections and Sharif’s own work. I wonder if you might start us off tonight

With your own professional and personal interpretation of the value of the visibility of Sharif’s representation and reinterpretation of these spaces and works of art in Pittsburgh. – [Kilolo Luckett] Great, thank you so much, and thanks for inviting me. (audience applauds) And I’ve just been so joyous

In our conversations over the past few months virtually, so it’s wonderful to be in person with you all. So good evening everybody. – [Audience] Hi Kilolo. – [Kilolo] Great, great. Good to see you all, good to be here. And so I’m just gonna take you on a little journey through my artistic practice

And my relationship and inspiration from Sharif. And so I am the founding Executive Director and Chief Curator of ALMA|LEWIS. It’s two names, Alma Thomas and Norman Lewis. They were both abstract artists, and Norman Lewis actually had a presence here in Pittsburgh because he was here from 1955 for the Carnegie International.

And so here you have just a little overview of what my newly found organization that’s only a couple miles away from here, ALMA|LEWIS, and what we do. We have a residency, we have a gallery, we have a Black archive of books, and we just really wanna welcome people in

To experience that virtually and in person. And so here are the two inaugural artists, Marvin Toure on the left and Amani Lewis on the right. Amani is a painter, printmaker, photographer, mixed-media artist, and Marvin Toure is a multidisciplinary artist, and he lives here in Pittsburgh, and Amani is based in Baltimore.

So this is Marvin in his studio, and it’s just really wonderful to be able to center one’s practice through experimentation, and that’s one of the core tenets of what we do at ALMA|LEWIS here. And Fre was really kind of enough to come and spend a little time with us today

And got to see not Marvin, but Murjoni Merriweather who’s a sculptor. This is just some more of Marvin’s work. He’s here in Pittsburgh, and he moved here from New York two years, a little over, little under two years ago, and you can see with his practice, he works in various different scales,

And a lot of his work has to do with memory and loss, and what it is that we find in between. And this is Amani’s work which is up. You have three days, or two days now to see it. The last day’s this Saturday, Reimagining Care.

Amani delved into his family’s archive of photographs and really did a much more, I would say, in-depth way of looking at his family through the eyes of his matrilineal line, five generations back. And these are some works in our gallery, large-scale prints that Amani did. This is all experimentation.

This is a new body of work all on archival paper, and you’ll see kind of some of the work down here in the lower portion here of how Amani has worked with some of the, in learning more about these photographs and talking to and interviewing his family,

And so they were basically through oral history and through these images, Amani has learned more and more about his Jamaican ancestry. And in listening to Sharif and his, and the video and him talking about him adding to history and looking at what isn’t there but also that is present,

That’s something that really informs my practice in what I do. And I’ve been working with Amani for the past four years right out of Amani going to MICA, and Amani’s really, has bloomed as an artist, and Amani actually knows Sharif, so that’s another reason why I have these images of Amani,

Because you’ll see in, just shortly, a show that I put together with Sharif and Amani and a couple of other artists in Pittsburgh. So this is a show that I did called Familiar Boundaries. Infinite Possibilities. at the August Wilson Center. I helped them for about three years, as their consulting curator,

Elevate their visual arts programming, and so I had local, national, and international artists, 12 of them, take over the entire building during the, in concert with the last International, and so you have some of the artists here on the left, from Martha Jackson Jarvis who’s from D.C. to Shikeith

Who lives here, to Nakeya Brown who through her being here, connected her to Silver Eye, and she just was in the Radial Survey, so once again, centering what I do here in Pittsburgh but pushing that out to the rest of the world and also bringing people here to connect

With what’s going on in Pittsburgh. These are just some of the highlights. This is Tsedaye Makonnen, she’s right there, she’s of Ethiopian descent, and she did this beautiful sculpture, this light called You Give Life, dedicated to her aunt. And here’s some other works in the exhibition with Njena Surae Jarvis,

50th Anniversary Dedication to the Black Panthers, and the egungun, Yoruba, blending those two cultural connections to create this energy sculpture called E. GUN GUN. So it’s E. GUN GUN with the Black Panthers, so it’s just pretty powerful what she did, and we did a movement piece with that. Alrighty, 2020, I don’t know

If anybody saw that exhibition that was here at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I got to work with the curators there and did some programming in the galleries and I wanted to kinda take us out of the theater and really activate the spaces in the gallery with the art,

And so I worked with a lot of local art historians and artists to really pick some of the works and talk more about how, from their perspective, and you’ll see, I also engaged two of the security guards who were also artists, and so they picked some of the work to talk about,

And it was a really wonderful experience because visitors got to not only hear from curators, they got to hear from people that actually worked in, that really were stewards of the work beyond the curators, and I always just thought that that was really unusual that we never really engage those people

Because they are the ones that really hold space and safeguard the work, and so listening to Rah Dees talk about Teenie Harris and some other works. By Any Means, I did this, I don’t even remember, I think five, six years ago. I was questioning why living in Pittsburgh,

Why didn’t we see Black curators? Why don’t we see Black arts writers? So I was like, let me just invite those people to come up in Pittsburgh and connect with folks here that are interested in doing that work. So I brought in my friend Rujeko Hockley

Who’s now at the Whitney Museum, and my two friends here, Jessica Lynne and Taylor Aldridge who started ARTS.BLACK, centering Black writing and talking about art criticism from a Black perspective. And I also brought in some other people from Texas, Nathaniel Donnett, and Nakeya, there’s just a whole bunch of wonderful artists,

And we had Alisha Wormsley and D.S. Kinsel, they were all in conversation. And so that was just a really wonderful way for all of us to get together and visit Thad Mosley, everybody knows Thad Mosley, right? And so we got to hear about Thad and his practice,

And also we went out and visited with BOOM Concepts and a whole bunch of other organizations that I won’t get into. We actually looked through the collection, that’s Senga Nengudi’s work right up there. We went to the Warhol, talked to them, talked about how Warhol has influenced so many different works

And people in their writings and their perspective. As you can tell, that’s Eric Shiner up there, he’s no longer here, this was several years ago. Also, I did, I started a group called Black Artists and Arts Administrator Meetup, and this is an older picture,

But just to give you all some kinda foundational work of, okay, this just didn’t happen overnight, I’ve been working at this for a while. This is probably almost eight years old, this image, and some people met and fell in love and got married. Naomi Chambers, if you’re out there, I’m not sure,

But her and Darnell met through this meetup and they’re now (laughs) married with two kids, so art can bring about love in very special ways. (laughs) So, and then this is a show that I worked on called, I curated in New York called Conjuring Wholeness

In the Wake of Rupture, and you can see Sharif Bey, one of his works back there and Stephen Towns and Amani Lewis were all in this show, and so we got to talk about each other’s work in the process, and so it’s not only just you talking about your work,

It’s wonderful to have other people lend their perspective. And then, that’s just Amani talking about her work, and that’s Sharif and some of his work, and then Sharif had a show at Concept Art Gallery, and Murjoni Merriweather and Amani, when they were here doing site visits,

I took them over there, and they just are fan, crush on Sharif, and Sharif has yet to meet Murjoni, and we’re gonna make that happen when Sharif’s back in town, because Murjoni works in clay, and she absolutely adores Sharif. And then this is Sharif

When he was in the Renwick show a few years ago in D.C. that I got to see, and I actually took one of his little clay classes, so Sharif knows I’m always about archiving, and so when I told him, “Oh yeah, “I have all these pictures of you,” he was like,

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this,” but he’s such a phenomenal teacher, a phenomenal teacher, and so I just wanna leave you with two of my favorite pieces in your show, of this kind of intergenerational works. The one on the left is of Sharif’s father from the ’60s,

And then Sharif making this wonderful work, and I just love the conversation that is happening and I think about my family and the work and the way in which Sharif talks about his work with his family line, and then also looking at these collections and integrating them.

So that’s all I have, so thank you very much. – [Alyssa] Thank you. If you wouldn’t mind passing. (audience applauds) Oh yes, please, clap, I’m a big clapper. Passing the clicker over to Frewuhn. I think in addition to the images that you are showing with all these wonderful people,

It’s reminding me of how self-centered this show is, which I use that phrase purposefully in face of the negative connotations to not brush over the circumstances Sharif overcame to develop his own visual form of storytelling, which was largely self-taught. And Frewuhn, I know, as a group that we’ve discussed briefly offline,

Your own self-initiated learning, but I wonder if you could share with us more of your interpretation of self as laboratory. – [Frewuhn] Yes, can you hear me? Okay, I didn’t know if I was on or not. Hi everyone, I’m Frewuhn. It’s been a pleasure to be in conversation so far

With these lovely ladies who are very respected in their fields and it’s just a pleasure to be here tonight, to be able to talk about my work in conversation with Sharif Bey’s Excavations. I was not previously familiar with Sharif Bey’s work, but since I’ve been invited,

I’ve had the opportunity to dive in and listen and to be able to sit with a lot of Sharif’s understanding of self-initiated pedagogy, which is something that is very intrinsic to my work with liberatory practice. Most recently, I was able to be at August Wilson,

And I was able to sort of perform what it means to be on a trajectory of liberatory practice through nu-hymns, and my work is concerned primarily with, how do we begin with the site of self as the site of protest?

And so the work that I was able to engage in has come out of me being able to sit with myself, to be able to sit with a lot of my background which is fringe to the art world. I’m in the music industry, I’m in cultural anthropology,

I have a background in education, history, so a lot of my work is not, it just overlaps in a lot of ways, and so, okay, so this is a photo of my residency that I was participating in in 2020 at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. This is a intergenerational conversation

With Patricia Hogan Williams who is the principal at the Imani School for young children and Viktor Ewing who is an installation artist and an archivist, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with Patricia who was my principal when I was at the Imani School.

We were able to sit in dialogue about protest, and how education itself is an act of protest. When I was listening to Sharif, what stuck out to me the most was his creation out of scarcity and being able to use pedagogy as a site of synthesis, to be able to sit with practice

For those who really need it, whereas there may be limitations imposed on us by race, gender, class, sexuality, all of these things. So for me, I’ve just been able to sit with the idea that in order to ignite any sort of change, we have to have practices in place daily, so for me,

Daily devotions and being able to use my work from working with organizations in Texas, like the Awakenings Movement which is an arts-convergent church, and using my background in theology to sort of cross-pollinate that information. This image here is at Fisk University. I was able to conduct a workshop

During the 90th Annual Spring Arts Festival, where I was working with students that were in various disciplines, English, arts, I was able to work with local community organizations on a two-day workshop where we were able to begin using our own devotional practices and being able to sit with other work

From literary giants such as Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and so on and so forth to be able to begin asking really critical questions and doing the work that sometimes is scary to do to be able to begin to look at yourself and be able to examine what the spirit needs,

What the spirit is craving for, these sort of self-excavations, so to speak. And so this took place over the course of two days and these students were able to, as a result of engaging in this process, get a four credit hour credit for participating in this. So this is a prime example

Of what self-initiated practice can amount to. This is an image of sort of a most, it’s the most recent project that I was working on with the Black Arts District one-off in the cryptocurrency space, in the metaverse space, and this is a mockup of Frewuhn’s Freedom Summer Mixtape Temple,

Which is based on the work that I did at Contemporary Arts Museum which is based off of Freedom Summer. And so during 2020, I was talking to some of my musician friends, they were sending me music, sending me tracks and I was home, this is right around the time of the riots,

Protests that were going on, George Floyd, and we were sitting at home, grounded, sort of just feeling helpless at the time, and a friend of mine sent me some music, and I was singing along to it and something was telling me, this is an anthem.

Something about this is giving me hope in a time where I’m feeling really lost, really dark, and from that, we were able to write a song, and that song gave birth to Side A, Side B, eventually becoming my work that I was able to sit with

At the Contemporary Arts Museum for about a week, just fleshing out what liberatory practice has really looked like for me personally. And it resulted in me being able to participate in the Black Arts District, having my own temple and having the sound installation on display in this temple,

And this temple is based off of a temple that actually exists in India that was built over a site that was, experienced drought. They built it over this site that had an irrigation system so there’s water all around it and there’s a bridge

That sort of serves as a link between the past, present, and future. And for me, just my presence in the metaverse space alone is sort of an example of what, how none of this is really linear. Our process and our trajectory toward liberatory practice is an act

Of futurism, but it’s also an act of protest at the same time. And this is an image at, from the August Wilson performance from the NuHymes, New Anthems performance, where I’m basically using the process as the product. A lot of time, in music and in visual arts,

We’re expected to have a complete process, a complete product by the end of the process, but the performance itself is me being able to engage with this liberatory act of being able to fuse past, present, sacred, secular, moving beyond these binaries and being able to create new work as a result.

And so just sitting with Sharif’s work has helped me be able to understand and be affirmed by the process of excavating, auto-archeology, being able to use self as the site of the first, most violent protest that we could engage in, and being able to in turn turn that work out

And be able to offer it as an opportunity for people to see themselves, not necessarily in context of a larger movement, but being able to really examine, what does it mean to have a daily resistance? What does it mean to engage in protest in a way

That is disruptive even in our own lives, and how we’re constantly being able to identify ourselves as the site of oppression, to be able to move through this work? And I think I’m gonna hand it over to you Jessica. I’m getting a little tongue-tied. Thank you. – [Alyssa] Thank you so much.

That picture of the metaverse reminded me of that imagery of a portal of entry that I mentioned at the beginning, which when I think when we visualize that, I think most of us picture a world on the other side of that dimensional threshold with or without people,

And Jessica, you’ve done so much work with artists on interpreting professional and personal intersectional needs and creating communities, and really opportunities that speak to this. I’m so excited to hear from you. – [Jessica Gaynelle Moss] Thank you, Alyssa. I mean, I feel like first I have

To express extreme gratitude for being invited here today, and also for all of you all for coming out as it’s beginning to rain and a little chilly outside. I also just wanna acknowledge that the care that is being exhibited in this space is not only in theory but in practice

And I see that in how Dana so eloquently uplifted you, Alyssa, and your work, and so I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that and express gratitude and sincere warmth for being in this space today. I see how this team cares for itself and I think that that’s something that is,

That I will interpret as I share my work today, but I feel like is inspirational, and so I just wanna uplift that in this space. I’m also just experiencing so much gratitude by sitting next to these brilliant women. Kilolo and Frewuhn, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us

In this space. It feels so warm in here. Okay, so I just want to acknowledge that I didn’t get here by myself, like many of us haven’t. I came from all of the places and the people, and I wanna acknowledge the countless people who have helped shape me. That could be my parents.

Here, this is my mom on the left, teaching at the Community Learning Center in the Hill District, and my dad on the right being himself on the streets of Sugar Top, and without these two people, I don’t think that I would, I know, confidently,

That I wouldn’t be who I am and so I always want to, like Sharif, uplift my parents and put them in this space, and so let’s start there. I started my journey as a student at Carnegie Mellon University where I studied painting and drawing, and often when I think about the evolution

Of my work, I went from this gesture of painting on a canvas to this gesture of rolling paint on walls. I, like Sharif, I think am just really inspired by thinking about excavation, working with the resources that are available and ultimately creating new tools and resources.

I’m really inspired by this idea of working with fragments of history, this idea that Kilolo was talking about, by any means necessary, and I wanna uplift what Frewuhn said about this creation out of scarcity. I’m really interested in using the materials that exist to create new worlds, and so what we’re seeing here,

When I was a student in undergrad, it was cheaper for me to have a mortgage than it was for me to live on campus at CMU, and so I purchased my first house at 19. I had a bunch of homies who were in the art school

With me come and help me rehab the space, which meant we drunk wine and watched HDTV and then would try to tile a floor, so it was a mess and you can see some of that mess and that evolution and how it evolved, but I really considered the house and the materials

That I was working with to be in the same way that I would work with paint or clay, thinking about how we could use what exist and make it turn into new forms, so the homies that helped me build the house can help, they lived in the house with me,

And we would work on rehabbing this space as we inhabited it. That first seed led to a second seed which led to a third seed, and now I own and manage three different properties in the Hill District that are affordable housing for Black students and artists living in the area. Wow. (audience applauds)

After I graduated from CMU, I went to grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this was my first introduction, I was a arts administration and policy and management student, this is my first introduction to Theaster Gates, who is incredibly relevant to my practice.

I was doing the thing, just doing the thing and not knowing what I was doing, and then you meet the master of doing the thing that you’re doing and you learn what it is that you’re doing, and so Theaster is the brain genius who works with, very similar to Sharif, clay,

But also multiple different media, and especially place and people, and so when I first graduated, I worked as the program manager at the Rebuild Foundation in Chicago. I opened up the Stony Island Arts Bank, which started off looking like this after 50 years of being ignored, and after a $5 million investment,

Turned out to be a site for contemporary art in the South Side of Chicago. The idea is instead of asking people to come to one of the world’s most renowned collections at the Art Institute, how can we bring that to them? How can we put that in our own communities

And how can we build resources in the places that we live for us? So that was incredibly relevant to my practice. From 14 through 17, I worked with Theaster managing the Black Artists Retreat, which brings over 300 artists from all over the world to the South Side of Chicago to be in community

With each other. Sometimes this is us like eating barbecue and having barbecue, I remember sitting next to Carrie Mae Weems who got barbecue sauce on her face, in between her and Theaster, but also it’s a space for dedicated research and thought. We have a number of different programs

And events during the three-day convening that are just meant to bring us together, and sometimes there’s a real, there’s a priority on the chill, right? Of course it can be about scholarship and fine arts, but can we just be together? And can it just be that?

And so I really appreciated that about my time with Theaster. I moved from Chicago and became the senior leadership at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina. A lot of my work was curatorial, but it was also deeply rooted in community engagement.

That’s Jordan Casteel giving a lecture at the public library. This is me giving a tour with the director of the museum and her husband, I mean, excuse me, the founder of the museum and her husband. It was founded in 1974 by two Black women and so that felt particularly relevant to my practice.

I would give tours to student groups, we would bring the museum outside and into the public, and that was just a really great way to think about how I could expand my practice into institutions. Then I went to law school, at the University of Pittsburgh right here around the corner.

This is me popping bottles when I graduated. This is the Black Law Student Association which I was the director of, and that also was important to me and my practice because there were, there will always be opportunities to defend why we need the spaces that we need,

Why it’s important for us to have our own spaces, and this is relevant because we see, even in terms of religious gatherings, our spaces are a threat. Black bodies are just a threat, and so there’s an increasingly importance on us having our own spaces for the safety and healing of our own people,

And so that is an incredibly important part of my work. Then I got my toe wet in philanthropy. This is Celeste Smith and Shaunda McDill who are two mentors of mine. They work at the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowment on a program called Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh,

And I’ve worked with these two women for the past two years and finding ways to support Black artists locally. We gave away $6 million in the past 10 years to Black artists in this region, and without these two Black women and doing that work,

It would not be possible, and so I just wanna make sure to uplift their names in this space. One of the things that I did when I was at the Endowments and working with institutions is figuring out how the work can extend just beyond me, right,

And so in 2018, when I was in residence at Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, I created a scholarship that supported Black, female, high school students who were interested in pursuing your career in arts administration. This was an unrestricted honorarium, an opportunity to curate an exhibition at the space,

As well as an integration into the rest of the programs and opportunities that the resident artists would have a chance to involve themselves in. I built upon that program when I was at the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowment, and so now, every year, the Above Ground Railroad Grant offers three Black students

Between the ages of 18 to 25 who are pursuing a career in arts administration an unrestricted grant of $10,000, and that will continue, it started last year and it will continue in perpetuity, and I’m so excited about that. I think a lot about space, not space like this but yes

But also space like physical spaces. And this is relevant because I think about how historically in this country, Black people, people who look like me, there have been intentional legal mechanisms that have been put in place to prevent us from owning land because we were previously deemed property,

And so what does it mean then for Black people to take ownership of said property, and so that led me onto this work with The Roll Up. So in Charlotte, North Carolina, there’s a space, it’s a duplex, that’s it on the left, that has a two-car garage,

And whenever the garage is rolled up, that’s a sign for the community, for you to literally roll up and see whatever action, program, event is happening in this space. So we invite artists for six months to a year to inhabit the space. We provide free housing, transportation, food and meal stipend,

As well as an opportunity to engage with the program, or excuse me, with the residents. The only ask of the program is that you’re a good neighbor. There’s no expectations. I’m not interested in you creating a body of work or the labor that’s affiliated with your practice, I just wanna set you up.

I want you to chill. I want you to learn from the livery that’s in there, I want you to meet your neighbors, I want you to invite people over to the house to have meals, and so we offer 15 to $30,000 for residents for the six months to a year that they’re there.

We can see Shan Wallace here in the studio space inside of the house, giving a lecture to neighbors. We see Zun Lee, one of our previous residents, providing an open house and engaging people in his practice. We’ve turned the garage into an exhibition space so that artists can pop up works in progress

And invite people over to the space to have conversations and be in dialogue with them, and we also work with a number of different organizations and institutions in the city to be able for them to be a resource for the artist while they’re in residence. And then I had a baby, ay! This is me upstairs in the galleries breastfeeding my daughter Max when she was 12, when she was about a year. There she is more recently. She loves Dana, that’s for sure. But that work really made me think differently about what it means to be a Black woman and be a Black mother.

I had the privilege and the blessing to work with an artist whose name has already been uplifted in this space, Alisha Wormsley, Alisha B. Wormsley, and Alisha (sighs) and I had a meeting, we had a coffee, and I think I showed up eight months pregnant and she was like, “Perfect.

“I wanna talk to you about this idea I have.” And the idea was to create a residency that would support Black mothers who are artists in the Pittsburgh region. This residency is four-tiered. We have a program that supports mothers so that they can practice in their homes.

We have a program that supports a mother who is a community liaison and can invite our visiting artists to work with our current residents. We also have a visiting artist and I am so honored today to be joined, and you all should be too in the presence of Renee Cox,

Art icon in the back row, who is currently our Sibyls Shrine visiting artist and will be here in Pittsburgh until March the third, and it is an honor, excuse me, March the fifth, there’s two more days for you to get at Renee.

It is such an honor to have you in the city, Renee, and for you to be a part of the Sibyls Shrine program. It not only benefits me and the moms who are a part of the program to be able to learn from you and your experience,

But it is really a win for the whole city, so thanks for being here tonight. Of course. That’s it. That’s it. Thank you guys. I hope you enjoyed that. – [Alyssa] Thank you all so graciously for sharing your practice. I always kind of begin these Q&As with a question based off of the topic at hand, which of course was interpretation, and I wonder if all of you could answer, in your own practice,

What is your definition of interpretation? Big question. – [Kilolo] Since I went first, I would say two or three. – [Frewuhn] I think for me, interpretation is opportunity. It’s synthesis. It’s being able to combine your genius with the existing source energy to create a new product.

I try to steer away from that word, but maybe a new way of seeing, a new perception, a way of being that can live in a space for others to engage with beyond the moment, maybe beyond your lifetime. So yeah, synthesis and opportunity. – [Kilolo] Jessica, you crack me up. (laughs)

I would say fellowship is starting with the inside of how aligning with yourself and how you are an extension to everybody else, and that’s something I think about my mother, everything that you do, what you touch, it touches somebody else and there’s a ripple effect.

And so with interpretation, I’m always about the dictionary and looking beyond what the dictionary says, because interpretation is the way in which you see and feel, hear, navigate, and so that is so expansive, and so I think about my formal educations of learning, and you’re always working within this prescribed way,

This framework, right? You’re in the box. And then you wanna rebel and you wanna look at like, oh, okay, this is my foundation of in the box, and then I’m always like, I wanna see what’s outside the box. I wanna interpret what it feels like and looks like to be outside the box.

And then moving away from the box to, there is no box, and I wanna say that this is something with my practice and the artists that I work with, and this is something that I just wanna give a little shout-out to Marvin Toure because he’s constantly talking about, there is no box.

And so the way in which we see things, it might not be so legible when you are actually learning something, that it’s gonna have to take time to really reflect, and reflection is also part of how I see what interpretation is, so it’s fellowship and it is reflection.

– [Jessica] Thank you for letting me go last. Interpretation, maybe translation? Thinking about the way that everybody speaks a different language, and how often, our words don’t mean the same thing. But that gives us space, and maybe that’s an opportunity, Frewuhn, to think about how we can listen more deeply

To each other, not make assumptions, ask questions. And then, I do this thing in therapy (chuckles) where my therapist will repeat back what she thinks I said, and that translation helps me because it gives me an opportunity to either affirm or deny to move forward in our conversation,

And that’s a tool and a resource that I think has been incredibly important to my practice. But I think about this idea of questions. One of the things Sharif talked about was he was raised in a household that really supported him asking questions, and I second that.

I think that was always something that my parents provided in the space of my upbringing, was a curiosity, and so yeah, maybe translating. – [Alyssa] That’s beautiful. I saw in your various presentations for all three of you, creative spaces, and while you have you desperate practices,

You are all place-makers in your own way. How do you see these places and spaces that you continue to create, shaping artists’ interpretations of the art world? – [Jessica] Okay, I’ll go first. I think as artists, we have to give ourself an opportunity to imagine and create new worlds.

That’s the freedom that comes with art. So I don’t know, Alyssa, if it’s making up this space for artists as much as it is giving an artist an opportunity to develop what it is that they see to realize the vision that they have, and I think

That that’s something maybe that’s unique between all, or similar between all of our practices too, right? Kilolo, I’m so inspired by your care and your generosity of your energy and time that you provide to our artist community, it’s something that I think is incredibly inspiring, and it’s something

That I think that I would like to see emulated in institutions, and with other cultural workers and leaders, and I think that ability to not have to be cornered or pigeoned by the four corners of anything but an opportunity to scratch free, a tabula rasa and create what we imagine feels really inspiring,

And could not be authored by any one but requires the penmanship of many, and so yeah. – [Kilolo] Alright, thank you Jessica. I think about the space that I’ve always wanted to be in is being unencumbered, and I always feel, when you walk into ALMA|LEWIS, I don’t care what’s going on,

You are walking into a space that you are truly free, and so whatever else is going on, or where my mind is, I’m stressed out or whatever, I know when I walk in, that that’s a safe space, and that’s how I’m, that extension is very much,

That’s the embodiment of how I wanna navigate and aspire to be, and that’s what I want every artist, creative person coming into this space, to truly feel that you are free, you are unencumbered, and so I am not judging you, we are looking at your work

And what it is that you’re wanting to do and experiment and research and think through, and today when Fre came in into Murjoni’s studio and you were talking to her, and she has to uncondition, unlearn this whole fast pace of making something for this deadline.

I have this show coming up, I gotta make, so you literally are in this space of really absorbing, reflecting, thinking through what it is that you really wanna do or have that time to think through some things, and just kind of unclutter what it is that we tend

To have to do, being in this world right now. – [Frewuhn] Yeah, that was a treat to be able to be with you all earlier, and just talk through sitting with making mistakes, well what is perceived as mistakes, having the space in the room to quote unquote fail.

I think I’ve been extremely blessed to be in a position that a lot of my knowledge as a performing artist and a student, student teacher, what have you, have been in spaces of, experimental spaces. And COVID presented an opportunity for me in particular

To be able to engage the museum as a laboratory space. SoundLab was something that I kinda stumbled into. It’s one of my exhibiting spaces, but it’s also, it’s been a space for me to have the freedom to fall, and maybe the freedom to fly and to be curious

And to collaborate and to create a trajectory for myself that is solely based on getting free. That’s just the personification and embodiment of my namesake, and my desire is that the folks that I get to collaborate with, the institutions that I get to collaborate with,

Give me room to practice and sit with my practice and sit my process, because I have a lot of questions, I have a lot of inklings, I have a lot of notions about things, and I’ve sat in the academy long enough to know that you don’t take every,

You don’t absorb everything that you’re learning in these classrooms, and you’re engaging with artwork in museum spaces, but that isn’t it. Those four corners or those white walls are not the only way to be with that work and experience that work. And so being able

To have these institutions sort of in a way reparations, giving us the opportunity to use institution as the very space to reimagine new ways of being in them from a non-colonized perspective or embodiment. Yeah, what does it mean to get out of while being inside

Of the space, and having the freedom to do that, and Sharif, in his lecture, in his conversation, was talking about without surveillance, and freedom and responsibility, having the freedom to wander and wonder. And those just sat with me ’cause that’s all I’m interested in, is the play.

– [Alyssa] I know Jessica and both Fre, you mentioned institutions, and you’ve all worked with museums, around museums, and are still in collaboration with museums, so I’m curious how you see this process of interpretation, the exercise of explanation or opinion of what something means shows up in museums,

And to what extent are museums expected to explain what something means, especially when you have an artist such as Sharif who is himself such an avid and active interpreter? – [Jessica] Is that Cauleen Smith still in the entryway? Cauleen said, “How can we expect “to decolonize colonized spaces,” right?

This is the fabric of these institutions, right? We can think about looting or hoarding or this cultivation of resources that don’t belong to you, right, but I think Sharif says that, “How can we,” let me just look so I’m not saying it wrong,

“How can we think about the,” oh my gosh, this is what, I wish you could see what my notebook looks like. (laughs) Just the idea of the colonized materials, right, like working with these birds, working with these institutions, working with these materials that don’t belong to us, right?

How do we think about working to make something new with something that has never belonged to us, like the ownership aspect of it? I don’t know if it’s the responsibility of the institution, but it is interesting to think about the institution as a tool with all of us as artists

And makers that can build and reimagine and play with and explore. I think that’s up to us though. – [Kilolo] These institutions, the public ones, they forget that they are public. And I think all museums should be admission free actually. And that you will get just a wide variety of people coming in here, and I know that the museum was free at one time, Thad Mosley told me, the museum was free one time. Not on RAD Day, but he said for years, this is decades ago,

But I think it’s really up to us to really help in defining the evolution of museums and public spaces. ‘Cause nothing is fixed. We are always in this constant movement. And I’d hope that nobody wants to be stuck and left behind, always thinking about this veracity of learning, just the consumption of knowledge

In so many different forms, so I’ve worked in a lot of institutions. I mean, I did my fair share of unpaid internships here in college. (laughs) I worked multiple jobs so I could do an unpaid internship, but I know that that’s hopefully going away, that everybody,

When they do have an internship, that it is paid, ’cause that’s really important. So I think that there’s some just foundational things that we forget as human beings that really fortify us and we think too much about how what foundation, what sponsorship is gonna do for us,

And we lose our sight on what really is at the core of all of us sitting in this room is, we’re very curious and you wanted to come here and support this institution and the people up here, and I think that that’s something that we just really need

To make that at the forefront of all the decisions that we make, and I don’t think that that is just something naive to say. I do think that that is an essential thing and how we should move forward together. And I don’t know if I really answered your question,

But what you were saying, Jessica, just really sat with me, so I needed to expand on that. – [Frewuhn] That’s interpretation at its best. Snaps. And I’m not gonna even really address it ’cause since you asked it, it has now taken on an entirely new form and shape for me,

So I’m just gonna speak to just the work that we’re in, we’re in a moment right now that is critical because it’s a reconstruction moment, so that means that we do have a responsibility to redefine and reassert what value these institutions hold for us, and we do that I guess by,

I guess holding institutions accountable to use the space as a place for inquiry, for dreaming, for imagining, because in order to, these institutions didn’t take five years to construct. We’re talking about hundreds of years in the making, and there are a lot of people that are vested in these institutions still standing,

Regardless if the initial intention no longer serves a purpose in the current space and time, and so we’re going to need as much time to undo as it has taken to do. And what that looks like, I mean I guess my, how I’ve been asserted in that context has been

To be able to have the freedom to imagine, to play, to have conversation, to have intergenerational dialogue, to build bridges, to sit with local artists, to sit with tenured artists, because essentially, artists are the gatekeepers and the holders of archive and memory, and what’s taking place now is a lot of unlearning

And undoing and forgetting, and activation of rememory, ancestral, spirit, intuitive, indigenous, a lot of things that have not been important and at the center of the conversation that now are being reasserted as a result of the work of reconstruction that needs to happen. So I think it is a responsibility of institutions now

To give the space, just give it. Open your doors and allow artists to come in and do what they do, regardless if there is a product at the end of that. – I love this, and it makes me think of when you said the door,

This knocking of the door and no one answers, right, and you knock on the door again and no one answers, and so for how long am I gonna wait at the door? And then maybe it’s time for me to think about building my own house, right,

And that gives, that aligns with this opportunity of, this idea of power, right, in that we don’t have to continue to wait for, but what happens when we take what we have and our own resources and our own assets and build it for us, right?

So what happens when we no longer understand these spaces as being the peak space, but we work with what we have to uplift our own people in our own spaces to see them in that light, right? – [Alyssa] Absolutely. I agree with whoever said that in the crowd, absolutely. Well, thank all of you for being with us this evening. I know I didn’t pull any punches with my questions, so I also appreciate in full gratitude our speakers this evening. Thank you for your presence.

It has been such a joy and an honor to share a stage with you and to be able to commune with you in person on a show that continues to bring people, disciplines, ways of thinking, and theory together in wonderfully nuanced ways such as this evening. So thank you everyone and good night.

– [Jessica] Thank you.

#Conversation #Interpretation